Recent years have seen the quiet but steady growth of martial arts and various forms of contact combat in Singapore, with an increasing number of Singaporeans now training and fighting at MMA gyms offering Muay Thai, Boxing and Brazilian Jiu-jitsu classes.
The allure is not hard to understand – besides fulfilling a primal need to fight and hit something, as well as the swank of being a martial arts practitioner, combat sports deliver a total body workout like no other. Combat sports demands a disciplined work ethic, combining high-intensity cardiovascular training, a significant amount of strength and conditioning work, and a fair bit of flexibility.
But there are those who ask more of their chosen form of combat technique: apart from having a good workout and practicing a cool sport, they want a practical and realistic self-defence technique that they can employ out of the ring and in the streets – should the need ever arise.
This is the need that Krav Maga answers. Born out of the tumultuous era of the 1930s in Israel, and subsequently adopted by the Israeli Defence Forces, intelligence organisations, and Special Forces around the world, Krav Maga roughly means Contact Combat in Hebrew. Unlike the world of MMA that is governed by rules to ensure “fair fights” in a sporting context, Krav Maga claims it is about the real world of “no-rules” street fighting, where survival demands the most direct, efficient, and brutal way to take down an opponent.
Increased interest in Singapore
Krav has been steadily gaining popularity in Singapore. There are at least four gyms offering Krav classes in Singapore, in addition to the classes that are held in various community centres across the island. Edwin Peng, Director of Krav Maga Global (KMG) Singapore said, “The number of people practicing Krav Maga has significantly increased in Singapore over the last couple of years. More people are taking up Krav not only as a form of self-defence but also as a lifestyle. We started off with only about five students in a class, but now we have an average of 20 students per class, and we conduct three classes almost every evening.”
KMG has even expanded to offering women-only classes and Krav Maga for children. The biggest draw of Krav, as its practitioners will tell you, is its practicality. Krav is not a competitive combat sport like MMA – there are no competitions, no judges and no rules – and neither is it a martial art form in the purest sense of the word.
Eric Dadoun, an instructor with KMG Singapore explained, “Krav is meant to maximise your natural reactions to address threats and because of that, perhaps unlike some other systems, there is no set flow of moves or set steps to address a problem. The problem dictates the solution, and for that reason I would say the hardest part about Krav Maga is to truly understand its principles as opposed to simply trying to memorise the steps you're ‘supposed to execute’.”
When asked what is most challenging about Krav, Lena Paik, a Krav practitioner said, “The continuous, simultaneous motion. Or in Hebrew, Retzev. While we are being taught step by step, Krav isn't about memorising the step-by-steps. There's no time to stop and think in real-life situations – you have to respond to any threats without hesitation. To gain speed and accuracy, you need to work from instinct and not rely on a pre-set routine. To gain muscle memory, you just need constant practice and good understanding of the logic behind every technique.”
Yet, the most difficult part of Krav is also the key to its uniqueness and effectiveness – the techniques of Krav are developed through the improvisation of instinctive responses to different types of threats. These instinctive responses are then refined and turned into effective defensive techniques and counterattacks to neutralise threats in the shortest possible time.
What's taught during a class
In a typical class, students start off with a cardiovascular warm up, followed by strength and conditioning exercises. The class is then usually taught one particular technique for that lesson – ranging anywhere from defending yourself against a straight punch to dealing with knife attacks or multiple assailants. Various drills are performed until the technique becomes instinctive and a part of one’s natural reflex. To add a touch of realism and challenge, instructors sometimes turn off the lights and have students move around in the dark, to train them to respond effectively even when vision is limited.
Many of Krav’s practitioners are so passionate about it that they put in many months of training in order to go through the grading process. Some, like Dadoun, put in extra training to become qualified instructors. He said, “Krav Maga is a practical real world self-defence system, the more you train the more you become prepared (mentally, physically and technically) to address different situations that you might run into. Receiving high grades and certifications is of course satisfactory but the real motivation and reward is knowing that you can defend yourself.”
Another student-turned-instructor is Shavonne Wong. “I wanted something that had no rules and worked on the streets, something that could help me against attackers way bigger and stronger against me,” she said.
Paik explained candidly, “I've always wanted to learn how to fight. And I'm not going to lie, I was attracted to Krav Maga because it looks so darn bad-ass. How to break a choke, disarm someone with a gun, or deal with multiple assailants. But it was after my first trial lesson with KMG that I really made up my mind, when I realised how simple these complicated moves are. Human reflex, that's how.”
The realism of Krav has also made it an increasingly popular choice amongst action choreographers. While ninja and kung fu films flooded the big screen in the 1970s and 80s, Krav has now infiltrated the TV and film industry to bring a greater degree of realism to increasingly discerning viewers – just watch Sean Penn in The Gunman, Jennifer Lopez in Enough and Daniel Craig (as James Bond) in Skyfall, to name a few.
So if you’ve been looking for a good workout that challenges both your cardiovascular fitness and overall conditioning, while also learning some pretty nifty and instinctive moves to defend yourself against almost any imaginable threat, look no further.
The writer is a contributor for SportSanity. SportSanity is a Singapore-based sports and wellness portal aiming to generate awareness, accessibility and availability of sports in Singapore. Check out our holistic sports directory at SportSanity.com.sg